Senate Democrats are discussing the possibility of attaching conditions to future Israel military aid amid humanitarian concerns in Gaza resulting from the country’s aggressive prosecution of its war against Hamas. But the caucus appeared far from consensus.
Senate Democrats discussed how to move forward with the White House’s supplemental funding request, which includes aid to Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to carry on the effort to wipe out Hamas when a temporary pause in hostilities lifts.
The issue was a topic of discussion at the party’s luncheon Tuesday, according to senators in attendance. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that Senate Democrats have different views on the subject, noting that “we’re going to have to have a discussion with the caucus and the administration.”
Still, no specific conditions were raised in the lunch meeting, according to Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, who said it’s a “difficult issue that will require further conversation.”
It comes as the precarious humanitarian pause stretches into a fifth day, accompanied by the release of 81 Israelis and foreign nationals taken hostage by Hamas and 180 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
The possibility of attaching stipulations to Israeli aid was elevated from whispers in recent weeks, after Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent, first called for a number of conditions – tying the aid to a “fundamental change in their military and political positions,” saying in a statement before the hostage deal’s announcement that, “while Israel has the right to go after Hamas, Netanyahu’s right-wing extremist government does not have the right to wage almost total warfare against the Palestinian people.”
Sanders among other things called for an end to the “indiscriminate bombing,” for displaced Gazans to be able to return to their homes and a commitment to broader peace talks for a two-state solution following the war, which began last month after Hamas stormed out from the Palestinian territory, indiscriminately killing civilians and taking hostages.
Then on Sunday, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut expressed openness to the conditions, telling CNN that the U.S. regularly puts conditions on aid to allies and acknowledging that he doesn’t see what’s controversial about the issue.
“I do think that Israel needs to be more careful in the way it is conducting these operations,” Murphy added. “I think that you can defeat Hamas without this level of civilian casualty.”
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Even President Joe Biden suggested openness to the prerequisites over the weekend, saying that conditioning military aid to Israel is a “worthwhile thought.” Still, he noted that the stance may have prevented the hostage deal from coming to fruition.
Some Democrats seemed to agree with Biden’s stance, like Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who’s “in favor of advocating with Israel that they minimize civilian casualties,” agreeing with Biden’s assertion that the conditions are “a worthwhile thought.”
“But I don’t see that we should treat Israel differently than we would any other ally and that we should not straight jacket Israel’s tactics or strategy on the battlefield,” Blumenthal says.
For others, the consideration of conditions appeared completely off the table.
Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania told reporters he doesn’t support restrictions, saying that Hamas has to be “eliminated,” necessitating that there be no conditions on military aid to Israel.
“Absolutely no restrictions at all,” Fetterman said.
Senate Republicans were likewise largely opposed to conditions on aid to Israel, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who called the idea “ridiculous.”
“Our relationship with Israel is the closest national security relationship we have with any country in the world,” McConnell said. “And to condition, in effect, our assistance to Israel on their meeting our standards it seems to me is totally unnecessary.”
But Democrats – while making clear their support for Israel – expressed deep concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
“We’ve got this situation where Hamas is the enemy, not the Palestinians, but the war is affecting the Palestinians much more than Hamas, and that’s the conflict that we’re all dealing with,” Sen. Peter Welch, Vermont Democrat, told reporters. “We all support Israel. A lot of us really oppose the war plan they implemented with the devastating bombing, and we’re now really worried about what happens if and when the cease-fire ends.”
Still, a lack of conditions on the aid didn’t seem likely to deter most Democrats from ultimately supporting funding to Israel.
“There’s going to be Israel aid,” Welch said. “There’s discussions about conditions on the bombing, but that reflects an emerging apprehension about what has happened with the bombing. But I do think that at the end of the day Israel’s going to get the aid.”